Michael Spies

Hans Blix was the primary witness at a September 26 congressional hearing titled, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Current Nuclear Proliferation Challenges,” held by the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, chaired by Christopher Shays (R-CT). The hearing also featured two additional panels, one comprised of governmental officials and the other comprised of non-governmental representatives.

Beyond the narrow-minded conception of non-proliferation prevalent in Washington, Blix, focusing on the findings made in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission’s report, Weapons of Terror, took the opportunity to inform Congress:

A large number–if not all–of the non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT consider that the nuclear weapon states parties are seriously failing in compliance with their commitments under the treaty to move to nuclear disarmament.

However, in his prepared testimony Blix declined to highlight the inextricable connection between non-proliferation and disarmament as forcibly as was done by the WMD Commission, which forcefully noted:

So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, there is a risk that they will one day be used, by design or accident. And any such use would be catastrophic.

However, Blix did note that, in the view of the Commission, “nuclear weapons may be particularly dangerous in some hands but constitutes a danger in anybody’s hands.” Thus he reasserted Commission’s pointed rejection of the “suggestion that nuclear weapons in the hands of some pose no threat, while in the hands of others they place the world in mortal jeopardy.”

Two other notable non-governmental panelists, Ambassador Thomas Graham, chairman of the Bipartisan Security Group, and Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, also focused primarily on disarmament issues in their testimonies.

Iran and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Blix also highlighted the connection between threats to state security and proliferation, saying specifically in the context of Iran that:

Just as security considerations are important behind some states’ non- adherence [India, Israel, Pakistan] such considerations may also figure among the factors which have led some states’ failure to comply. Iran’s enrichment program appears to go back to the 1980s. If there were intentions to acquire nuclear weapons or getting closer to the option, these might well have been based in suspicions that Saddam Hussein in Iraq was working to develop nuclear weapons and that Iran’s security required a response. The suspicion would have been right.

Coming in line with the views expressed by the current Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, Blix implied support for a compromise solution where Iran would be allowed to conduct heavily monitored enrichment research, while forgoing an industrial scale program. In his view, under such a solution “any nuclear weapon program would be pushed off for the amount of time it would take to restart the enrichment programme and produce the amount of highly enriched uranium required for a weapon.”

Moreover, doubting the effectiveness of a sanctions regime against Iran imposed in response to its nuclear recalcitrance, Blix predicts that “broad economic sanctions on Iran would probably bring support that might otherwise not be available to the government and be perceived by Iranian public opinion as punishment by the big and rich countries.”

In a fleeting moment of political consensus, in his testimony before the Subcommittee, Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation concurred with the WMD Commission’s linkage of proliferation and security. Specifically endorsing the Commission’s recommendation on addressing the root causes of proliferation, Spring urged Congress to “focus on the underlying motivations that drive nuclear proliferation” further noting that “…broader requirements for security cannot be separated from matters related to nuclear proliferation.”

Ironically, while lambasting the WMD Commission’s recommendations for no-first use pledges and legally-binding negative security assurances from the nuclear weapon states, after falsely and bizarrely charging that “the policies recommended by the Commission assume that matters related to the use of nuclear weapons exist in a vacuum,” Spring noted that “issues related to the use of nuclear weapons are necessarily linked to issues related to the use of conventional weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction.”

Andrew Semmel of the State Department apparently disagrees with both Blix and the Heritage Foundation and rejects the very obvious link between security and proliferation. Specifically speaking to the issue of negative security assurance, from the perspective of the black and white view of the Bush Administration,

The demand for NSAs [negative security assurances] from the P-5 originated during the Cold War, when NNWS were alarmed at the prospect of being “caught in the middle” of nuclear confrontation between the superpowers. There is no longer a “middle” along these lines. In the NPT context, today’s divide is between those seeking to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of their NPT obligations and those determined to prevent that from happening.

Reading between the lines, the implication here could not be clearer and in fact strikes to the core of the current inherent unsustainability of the U.S. approach to nuclear non-proliferation. To put Semmel’s words another way, non-nuclear states no longer have to fear being “caught in the middle” as the divide is now between the NNWS and the nuclear weapon states that target them.

After earlier advocating for a re-interpretation of the “right” recognized under Article IV of the NPT to research, develop, produce, and use nuclear energy, Henry Sokolski of the DC-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, courageously recognized that the proliferation risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle is not an Iran-specific problem. Advocating for the “need to do more to enforce the rules and do so in a country-neutral fashion,” he observed:

Concern for nuclear security has increasingly taken a backseat to states’ encouragement of uneconomical nuclear energy projects that can bring countries within weeks or days of acquiring nuclear weapons. For example, Japan, which was already rocked by revelations that its commercial plutonium fuel-making authorities had lost track of roughly 40 bombs worth of nuclear weapons usable material, began operations of one of the world’s largest reprocessing plants at Rokkasho-mura this year. This plant is certain to lose money and experts project that the IAEA will lose track of nearly 50 crude bombs’ worth of weapons usable plutonium there annually. Other equally problematic nuclear fuel-making operations are underway or planned in Brazil, South Africa, India, Ukraine, and Argentina. One has to wonder why: The IAEA has correctly established that there is no economic requirement for additional nuclear fuel-making capacity for next 10 to 20 years. Yet, the US is doing little to object to these efforts, and arguably is encouraging countries to pursue them in order to become “nuclear fuel supplying states” under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. Here, it would help to pace nuclear power’s expansion and that of commercial nuclear fuel-making more with what private financial institutions are willing to fund than with what governments are willing to subsidize.